Hungary spill boosts Vietnam opposition to bauxite mines
Oct 25, 2010, 7:46 GMT
Hanoi - A group of Vietnamese elder statesmen and academics said Monday that they petitioned the government to close bauxite mines in the country's Central Highlands in the wake of a massive toxic mud spill in Hungary this month.
Environmentalist opposition to the Chinese-run bauxite mines flared in 2008 but subsided after police arrested some critics.
The six-page petition calling for an end to the mining was signed by 15 senior figures and sent to top officials in the Communist Party and government.
Signatories included former vice president Nguyen Thi Binh, one of the chief negotiators of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, which ended US involvement in the Vietnam War.
The petition calls on the government to close mines already in operation and cancel any future ones, quoting earlier research saying the mines would produce minimal economic benefits and pose severe environmental risks.
'What will happen if there is an earthquake?' asked signatory Dang Hung Vo, a former deputy minister of natural resources and environment.
The state-run newspaper Tuoi Tre on Monday quoted Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Le Duong Quang as saying the petitioners were wrong and that the projects were safe.
Quang is also chairman of the state-owned Vietnam National Coal-Mineral Industries Group, the partner of China's state-owned aluminum company Chalco on the mines.
Le Huy Minh, deputy director of Vietnam's National Geophysical Institute, said project designers had never consulted his institute about the significant geological fault lines in the Central Highlands.
The petition anticipated that project operators would be unable to control the huge quantities of caustic red mud produced as a byproduct of bauxite processing.
Such a scenario happened in Hungary October 4 when hundreds of tons of red sludge spilled from a broken dam at a plant that processes bauxite to produce aluminium, flooding a village and killing seven people.
The Vietnamese petitioners said cancelling the mines would represent a 'painful decision such as has never been taken in our economic history' but that it is better to 'suffer now than to leave the consequences to the future.'
After National Assembly members questioned the mines, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung promised to carry out an environmental impact report by autumn 2009, but none has ever been released.
Over the past year, websites run by opponents of the mines have been attacked and shut down, and several activists who wrote blog posts opposing the mines have been arrested.
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